Striving to avoid slipups isn’t noble.
Striving to take bold action, knowing that you’ll inevitably fail and look foolish, is a strong strategy.
Recently, an inspiring colleague of mine shared this with me.
Life is a maze and we are mice. We have decisions to make at every fork in the road. We will unquestionably take wrong turns, bump up against walls and need to change course. Humans, just like mice, need freedom to move about. If we’re told, “Don’t choose the wrong path,” either explicitly or subliminally, we freeze and stop navigating the maze. The fear of failing leaves us paralyzed and unable to move forward. We stagnate. From the New York Times:
The most concrete thing that neuroscience tells us is that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off.
I’m not suggesting that we should become adrenaline junkies, perpetually looking for riskier activities. We should continually evaluate upside and minimize downside. However, it is only by taking calculated chances that we can make any progress. If you never fail, then you have never attempted to achieve what you’re capable of.
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. -Albert Einstein
By new, he means difficult and challenging.
Learning to accept the possibility of making a mistake or even fail is a challenge to our comfort zones. We are hardwired to evaluate the negatives more strongly than the positives. As you know, we riff around here on the topic of trial and error. That presumes that there will be errors – but our resulting lessons will be stronger for having made them. Robust triumphs are even more satisfying.
Take a baseball player who experiments with a new approach at the plate. Maybe it’s attacking a fastball in 0-0 count when his personal default setting is to take the first pitch. The first ten times he swings, he comes up completely empty, making weak contact, beating the ball into the ground and awkwardly swinging and missing. He stays with his plan. He’s done his research and taken a long view. He trusts that, over the course of time, his tree will bear fruit. From the BBC:
There has to be some reason to believe the science or technology underpinning that solution, that makes us think the idea is only mostly crazy.
Finally it starts to click. Line drives begin to sprinkle and he reaches base more frequently. He’s on drugs. It’s a high.
Without the risk, without the experiment, we have zero chance to become substantially stronger. Now, I’m not suggesting we only learn from making a wrong turn. Making the correct one teaches us just as much, if not more. From Forbes:
Just as the failures of others teach us more than their successes, our own successes teach us more than our failures. Neurological research bears this out. Scientists at MIT monitored primates’ brains while teaching them a specific task. When a primate succeeded, the researchers observed the monkey’s neurons respond – their brain physically changed in response to learning. When a primate failed at the task, however, there was virtually no change. Furthermore, once primates experienced success, they were more likely to continue improving their performance.
Additionally, it just feels better to succeed (read: win). But only being willing to entertain success means that we will fail as a group. From lifehack.org:
Too many organizations today have cultures of perfection: a set of organizational beliefs that any failure is unacceptable. Only pure, untainted success will do. To retain your reputation as an achiever, you must reach every goal and never, ever make a mistake that you can’t hide or blame on someone else.
Imagine the stress and terror in an organization like that. The constant covering up of the smallest blemishes. The wild finger-pointing as everyone tries to shift the blame for the inevitable cock-ups and messes onto someone else. The rapid turnover as people rise high, then fall abruptly from grace. The lying, cheating, falsification of data, and hiding of problems—until they become crises that defy being hidden any longer.
If we care to grow as people and as teams, we must continually push our personal and collective limitations. We won’t always be successful, but our ultimate achievements will be grander for it.
Thanks for the post, Kap! I have been missing these. Always appreciate the perspective.
Great title. Very convincing and inspiring message. Your ABs remain sharp despite your more limited role. One comment roughly midway in really made me question myself, all of us: “He’s on drugs. It’s a high.” So I throw this out to the readers: Are exhibiting ambition, grit, determination really just more evolved, socially respectable ways for us to simply achieve a primal high that we all innately and perpetually crave?
John Snow says
Great post Kap, I remember when you played for the Jacksonville Suns, I got to see you play when I was a child. It’s great to read your writing
Kap’s the heavy frontrunner to be the next manager of the Dodgers – I think the days of him personally replying to everyone who comments on this blog may be at an end! Haha. Best of luck if you get this gig Kap, you’ll do a great job.
Jason Bartels says
This has absolutely played true in my life in sports, coaching varsity HS sports, school, and everyday life. I have had my share of success and failure, but I have noticed that the success became more frequent and enjoyable once I learned how to not let the fear of failure, or actual failure get in the way of my happiness and effectiveness.
As a coach, we deal with kids that shut down, or sometimes even quit, or threaten to quite. Being that they are high schoolers, they will often blame it on external factors like the coaches, injury/hurt/ill, the competition or official, or a combination. Rarely will a kid just admit that he is stressed out because he is afraid to lose, or not live up to perceived expectations. The fear of failure alone has chased some kids away, but actually losing will push them away faster. The problem is, we often have to deal with parents complaining about the coaches, while not seeing what the obvious and true reasons are.
One of the athlete/parent complaints from these kids have been the actual taking of some practice time to discuss this type of thinking and “mindset” philosophy. It really does help a lot of our kids, but the kids that are resistant and complain are usually the ones that need it the most.
This is an excellent post! As a small business owner and a mother of two it hits home. Thank you!
Barry Blundin says
Go Kap and go Phils! (Whats up with Harper!!!!???)
David Lawrence says
Drove you in Corktown and downtown Detroit and didn’t realize I was talking to Gabe Kapler about Michigan and Trumbull Old Tiger Stadium converted into little league field and condominiums/ apartments. Wish you well in the Bay Area! You are a good man!